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Monday, April 19, 2004

I'm Back
I'm back from the Gathering! It was one of the funnest vacations B and I have had. I played something like 45 board and card games and a poker tournament in 5 days, and met a ton of great people, including several several game designers and game company reps. We came home with 19 new games, 9 of which were free as prizes and the other 10 I bought from folks selling at huge discounts. Cool.

I played one fun, poker-themed board game called Austin Poker, which I will discuss in a future post. For now, I'll just recap the big poker tournament, which I mentioned in my last post.

The poker tournament was on Wednesday (although I've played so many games since then it seems like a couple weeks ago). This was a completely free event, with 2 prizes, both of which went to the winner. These were 1) a nifty World Poker Tour banner and 2) an early pick at the Gathering's prize table. But most everyone was really competing for the prestige of the win. This was the 15th annual Gathering of Friends, and over the years the poker tournament has become one of the most popular events and one of the toughest to win.

There were just over 300 poeple at this year's Gathering, and more than 80 of them entered the poker tournament. Everyone was given 500 in chips, with 1/2 blinds that generally doubled every 20 minutes. I'd estimate that about a fifth of the players had never played Hold'Em before, while another fifth were regular poker players, and most of those in between played very infrequently. This was primarily a gathering of board gamers, not poker players.

The event started as mass chaos. There were no dedicated dealers, so players were dealing, which is of course difficult at 9 and 10 players tables. There were not enough decks of cards at first, and there were no buttons at most tables (some tables improvised with bottle caps and the like) so there was regular confusion as to whose deal it was. Many players were unfamiliar with the concept of blinds. Most players were not used dealing with all-ins and side pots, and some errors crept into the math. At least one table was initally making new players who got switched to their table pay the big blind out of position, as you would at a ring game.

My first table was spared most of this confusion (although I experienced it once I was moved). There were 2 guys running the event, and 1 of them was sitting at my table. So our table was run well, but our tournament host kept having to get up and deal with disputes and questions at other tables, so we got in fewer hands during the first couple levels than most tables. His co-host was stuck breaking up short-handed tables, coloring up chips, and the like. I've hosted a 2-table, 14-person tourney in my home, and I found it confusing enough that I decided I would never again try to run and play in a tourney at the same time. I can only imagine the headache of managing 8 tables. After about 3 tables were eliminated, however, most players got the hang of things and it started going more smoothly.

OK, onto the play. Although the blinds started at 1/2, the players at my table seemed to think that they had to bet at least $25 pre-flop. My strategy of "see as many flops as you can for cheap during the first few levels" was thus not going to work. After repeatedly trying and failing to limp in, I foolishly started calling some of these pre-flop raises with some of my better cards, and leaked away most of my first $100 in this manner.

Then came one hand that sticks out in my memory. I had pocket 7s. I think we were in level 3 with 5/10 blinds. I raise $25, hoping to fend off an even bigger raise, since now players are deciding they like throwing in the nice black $100 chips pre-flop. Probably not a great idea but at least it does fend opff the bigger raise. I'm called by only 2 players and would've rather it was more. Flop comes and I hit my set. The other 2 cards are 10 or below, but all 3 are clubs. I bet $100. The guy 2 to my left reraises to $200 and the other guy folds.

At this point I make an interesting realization. I know this guy's been playing any 2 cards, showing down with nothing, and he keeps saying "raise" when he means "bet" and he seems confused by the concept of small and big blinds. I don't think his I'm-a-poker-newbie thing is any kind of act. My gut says to re-raise him all-in. But the tournament's been going on less than an hour. I don't want to be eliminated ahead of all these people who've hardly ever played before, damn it! If I go out now, all my friends, who I've been talking poker with for a couple days now, will know it. I rationalize that "This tourney is about prestige and not money, right?" I want to prove that I can get at least close to the final table, and of course I want to play more. Winning is not my primary goal. I'm going to fold, and regret it for the rest of the tourney.

Poor reasoning, and a generally wussy play. The number one rule in poker has got to be "play to win." I fold, and regret it for the rest of the tourney.

Oh well, lesson learned. I eventually go down to $75 and shift into super-tight mode. Then a couple all-ins turned that $75 into $700, which impressed my non-poker-playing friends more than anything else even though I knew it was coin-flip type luck. I eventually went out 18th out of a little over 80. My final all-in was called by 4 people (!) and the winner of that hand ended up winning the tourney. My wife B, it must be noted, finished 13th and received acclaim for being top among the few women who entered.

I was left itching to play some more poker, but it never happened even though there was a ring game going every night. On the one hand, most of the guys I was hanging out with do not play poker, and on the other hand, the poker games generally didn't start til midnight, when my brain was pretty well fried from having played other board and card games the whole day long. I did hear some fun stories of single-table tourneys, and will do my best to start one next year.

I may be heading down to Foxwoods on Wednesday. A friend of mine is moving down to DC and wants to hit the casino one last time. Til then, I've got a ton of catching up to do on all my favorite poker blogs.

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